Two-thirds of GPs surveyed would personally not provide abortions

Irish College of General Practitioners finds 35% of family doctors say they will carry out terminations

About two-thirds of family doctors surveyed have said they will not personally provide abortion services to patients, a report carried out by the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) suggests.

However, a majority of those who would not provide services would refer women seeking terminations to a colleague, it found.

The findings emerged from an online consultation carried out by the ICGP during August and September in which about 26 per cent of its 3,500 members took part. It said the responses reflected the demographic and geographic profile of the group’s membership.

The ICGP said on Thursday that 25 per cent of members surveyed indicated that they would not provide abortion services and would prefer not to refer patients to a colleague for a termination.


It said a further 43 per cent of GPs surveyed indicated that they were not in position at this time to provide terminations “due to concerns regarding capacity, resources or conscientious objection, but are willing to refer to another colleague”.

The ICGP said 32 per cent of GPs surveyed say they will provide termination-of-pregnancy services.

The ICGP said in its view “no GPs should be required to provide termination-of-pregnancy services if they do not wish to”.

It said the consultation process showed that GPs strongly believed that the provision of a suitably-staffed 24-hour helpline was a vital element of the service, “as it will be a mechanism to ensure that those who do not wish to provide the service will not be required to do so”.

The ICGP is the professional and training body for Irish GPs. It is involved in drawing up the clinical guidelines to apply as a part of Government plans for the introduction of abortion services following the referendum earlier this year.

The medical director of the ICGP Dr Tony Cox said the consultation process provided substantial feedback from members which was assisting the College in designing its clinical guidelines for the termination-of-pregnancy services.

“The data indicates that the majority of GPs are either willing to provide the service or refer a patient to another doctor who will. The 24-hour helpline will help women seeking a termination of pregnancy to be referred to a GP or other provider in the community who is able to provide the service to them.”

Dr Cox said that of those GPs who do not wish to provide a service, resourcing and workload was a major concern.

“Our feedback shows that there is genuine worry that the promised rapid access to ultrasound scans and hospital care, will not be delivered.

“The findings also demonstrate that there is a cohort of GPs who will not opt to provide services due to concerns related to conscientious objection.

“Both in the development of guidelines and in advocating for the necessary resources the College’s primary concern is patient safety and quality of care.”

The ICGP said it had been involved in ongoing feedback and engagement with members since the referendum on the repeal of the Eighth Amendment was passed in May 2018.

It said that as well as the online consultation process conducted during August and September, the College had engaged in a round of nationwide regional meetings at which members had an opportunity to discuss their concerns about termination of pregnancy services in the community. These meetings are continuing through November.

“The College’s focus has been to develop clinical guidelines for service provision – the guidelines are relevant to all members, both those who opt in to provide the service as well as those who do not. The College’s position has been clear from the outset that it must be an opt-in service,” Dr Cox said.

The ICGP is to hold an extraordinary general meeting of its members on December 2nd to discuss the provision of termination-of-pregnancy services by GPs.

The egm was called by the board of the College to discuss the concerns raised by some members.

The ICGP said it had received a request for the holding of an egm on October 31st, but that this was invalid as there were no actual signatures provided as was required procedurally.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is the former Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent